Two weeks ago I traveled to buy a used Toyota Tacoma pickup. The company I work for gave me a great deal, and even considering the age and mileage on the truck, I hope it will last most of a decade. It is a Toyota, after all. And even if I find I want to ditch it for something else, the model is extremely popular up where I live. Really couldn’t go wrong.
The biggest hurdle buying the pickup was that it was located in Utah. Our company has an office in the Salt Lake City area, which is where it was currently stored. But this is where miles are perfect. Once I settled on a day to fetch it, I immediately booked an award ticket for just 7,500 LifeMiles.
Then came the task of driving it all the way back to California.
Planning my Trip Across Nevada
It’s been a while since I’ve driven such a long trek. I took a road trip with our older two kids during spring 2018, but we broke things up into no more than 5 hours of driving per day. Usually it was less. But that was with kids, and my kids really don’t like long car trips.
I considered just blasting home, staying in Winnemucca, Nevada the first night and finishing the drive the next day. Interstate 80 is by far the fastest, and this would split the trip into 5 hours the first day and 9 hours the second day.
But I didn’t really want to drive Interstate 80. Instead, I found myself looking further south at Highway 50. It’s commonly known as “The Loneliest Road in America.” At least that’s what my dad has called it for years. Maybe it’s not the common name. This would increase the drive time, but it would be a different (hopefully nicer?) route. I could spend Wednesday night in Ely, the following night in the Sierras or Central Valley of California, and then make it home by Friday.
But even that wasn’t enough. A few days out, I decided to drive some even more rural highways through Nevada. And it was totally worth it.
Somewhere near Nowhere, Nevada
I was pretty proud of myself for snagging an award night for just 12,500 IHG points at the very new Holiday Inn Express is Ely. If you have no idea where Ely is, you’re probably not alone. It’s located at the intersection of multiple lonely roads in eastern Nevada, pretty much equidistant from Reno, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City. Not exactly a place everyone passes through.
But there are things to do nearby. One of my coworkers who is familiar with the area suggested that I visit Great Basin National Park. I almost added in several hours for this, but decided that I didn’t want to extend the schedule even more than I was. I’d just enjoy my time on the road, alone with my thoughts. I thought there would at least be music. But 11 years of dusty Utah fieldwork left the CD player inoperable, and the radio had more static than was tolerable.
It was lightly snowing when I left Ely, heading out on Highway 6 before cutting south along State Route 318. It was a lonely drive. But still beautiful in its own way. My first trips through the desert left me thinking it is ugly. But the more I have seen and experienced the American Southwest, the more I have come to enjoy it. The Sonoran Desert, especially the area surrounding Tucson, is my favorite.
Maybe it’s the contrast with the lush, green landscape I’m used to where I live in northern California. In any case, I now find the desert beautiful. I don’t get vistas like this every day, although I am privileged to live in one of the prettiest little valleys in my state, if I may say so.
A couple hours later I’d made it to Crystal Springs. I didn’t see any crystal. Nor springs. But there was a small lake nearby, which means at least some level of human and wildlife activity.
The Extraterrestrial Highway?
The most interesting part was the “Extraterrestrial Highway” sign. State Route 375 runs about as close as you can get to Area 51. The Nellis Air Force Range takes up a significant chunk of the land between Highway 375 and Interstate 95 heading north from Vegas to Reno. When I stepped out of the truck, the first thing I heard were military jet aircraft somewhere overhead. I tried, but couldn’t spot them.
Strange places always call for a selfie. Well…at least this one did.
If the previous state highway was lonely, this one was even lonelier. The desert is beautiful. But, man, it was a long 283 miles between actual towns. I’m glad I gassed up the tr￼uck in Ely. I might not have made it all the way to the next station, considering the route I took! Turns out that a rear brake pad was also rubbing the drum, which didn’t help the fuel economy. I figured this was just the fact it was a 4WD.
Nothing became something after a couple more hours as I made my way along the Extraterrestrial Highway back to Interstate 6, which soon brought me to the town of Tonopah. Now…you could easily pass through here, gas up, and continue on your way. But the age and state of the buildings through downtown clearly shows you that this is a city with a past. I could spot old mining infrastructure as I pulled into the Valero to fuel up, thankful for this populated spot on the Nevada map. What was once a booming town centered around silver mining has now become a rest stop for travelers on their way from Reno to Vegas.
There are still things to do, though. I honestly wouldn’t mind coming back and enjoying Tonopah for a day or two. The stargazing is supposed to be superb, and you can explore the old mining park and cemetery.
Driving after this point started to get tiresome. I guess 5 hours is about my limit. Given that this is about the time it takes to drive to San Francisco from where I live, it’s more likely this is just what I’m used to. My route took me through the Hawthorne Army Depot before I cut over to 395, following the Walker River. Then it was on into Carson City and over to Stateline, Nevada on Interstate 50.
Man, What a Lake
I’ve only been to Lake Tahoe twice, and neither time have I been able to do much. I had one afternoon with two of my kids here back in 2018. It was spring then, and a bit warmer, although April is still rather chilly in the Sierras. The lake is just spectacular, though. I cannot get over how beautiful it is. Stopping here for the night just made me want to plan a long weekend trip at Tahoe this summer.
What’s crazy is that I have lived in California for the vast majority of my life and I didn’t make it to Lake Tahoe until I was 28. This was one of those moments where I realized I often prioritize seeing exotic, far-away places instead of the beauty of nature that is close to home. It’s good to have these reminders.
The rest of the drive went smoothly as I headed out of the mountains and out to the coast, heading north toward home. I’m glad I broke up the drive a bit and got to see a new stretch of road, as barren and lonely as it was. It might also be time to add a road trip or two to the calendar each year.